Creating an "Underclass"

A few weeks ago, I received this email in my inbox via a listserv I belong to:

My cleaning lady is looking for new clients - she is great! She cleans our 3-story townhouse every two weeks, for $100/ visit. If you are local and interested in her details, please shoot me an email and I will pass your number along to her.

Last week, I received this email from yet ANOTHER listserv in response to someone seeking a full-time nanny for her baby:

A young lady that used to watch my girls when they were younger will be doing in-home care in Alexandria very soon, for $200 a week.  Would she be interested in something like that?  My daughters are 17 and 20 now, and they still ask about her!  Let me know if you or anyone else wants her number-I highly recommend her.  

It amazes me how comfortable people are nowadays to not only say certain things aloud, but to also put it in writing AND send a mass email out on a listserv with your name and contact information. I digress. What I would love to ask these women is HOW? How can you pay another woman $100 to clean your 3-story townhouse? How can you tell another woman that a young woman will watch your child at home for $200 a week? 

I understand that everyone wants to save a few bucks whenever they can, but there’s a difference between being frugal and exploitation. Is saving yourself money worth it at the expense of another human being? At the proposed nanny salary of $200 per week, the individual would earn $10,400 a year. This is just a few hundred dollars shy of the federal poverty threshold for an individual.   In other words, this person will barely make ends meet. If you ask me, this is indentured servitude… Harsh I know, but the other terms going through my head are even harsher. 

I babysat in college as part of a student-run babysitting service agency. At the time, the minimum wage was $7.50 per hour. No one I knew accepted jobs for $7.50/hour. The minimum we took was $10/hour and even then we rarely took jobs at that rate. We were more likely to work at $12 or more per hour. More affluent families paid $20 an hour. Having said that, it would be unconscionable  of me to pay another woman anything less than I would accept for myself. It’s true that an individual can turn down a job just like my friends and I did if the salary was low, but we knew our next meal would be somewhere on the college campus…

Having a person clean your home is a “luxury.” What I mean by luxury is that it’s not a necessity. If you can afford to have someone come in and clean after you, then why pay them that paltry salary of $100 a visit? If you’re going to hire someone, sit down and crunch the numbers. Calculate how much you would accept for the position. If you’re someone that has no clue what to pay someone, ASK around. Find out what the going rate is and don’t only ask friends. If you’re likely to underpay your employees, your friends may do the same also. (People tend to attract like minded folks…) Ask colleagues, go on parenting websites/blogs, call a cleaning/nanny service agency to find out what the typical salary is for an individual.

If you’re planning to have a family, include the costs of having a caretaker for your child in the total costs of having a baby. Also consider day care. (Kids that know how to play in the sandbox with others is so important…) Isn’t this part of family planning? I know kids are expensive and hiring a nanny is too. I know families that are legally paying $40,000 and more out of their own pockets for a full-time caretaker. Yes, that is a whole lot of money that could be saved or used for other things. However, as far as I’m concerned, those families are doing the right thing. When you underpay someone, you are hurting the individual, their family, and our local and national economies. Furthermore, you are helping to create and/or perpetuate an “underclass."  If that doesn’t make you think twice, you’re violating the labor laws of this country.

Hiring someone to take care of your child or home is one of the most important decisions you will make. What kind of message are you sending to your children when you underpay someone?